Movie Review: Monsters and Men (2019)

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Summary: The aftermath of a police officer killing of a black man, told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand.
This will be a short review.
Pros:
Cast and Characters. We meet a few characters in this film but we follow three leads so I’m mostly going to talk about them.
  • John David Washington as Dennis Williams. He is a police officer who at the start of the film, gets pulled over by one of his own. It sets the precedent for the film and you can expect for it to be like this for the rest of it and it is. When we get to his section, we see that he cares about his community because he plays basketball with some of the teenage boys but he’s also at odds with his personal beliefs and his duty as a cop. I get it and I liked that we get to see that side because it’s hard to consider the cop, especially a black cop’s role and mindset when it comes to police brutality against people of color, especially black men. It’s clear to see that it affects him in ways, but he can’t help but to think with his cop mind… that probably sounds weird, but you know what I mean. I haven’t seen JD Washington in anything yet (yes, I have not seen BlackKKlansman yet) but I know that I like him. He’s very dynamic to watch and his role in this is very subtle and I honestly wish we got to see more of him.
  • Anthony Ramos as Manny Ortega. I love him. Once I found he was in this, I knew I had to watch it and bump it up on my list. He’s from Hamilton in case you don’t know lol and he’s on Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It and he was in A Star Is Born lol. But Manny is a young man who at the start of his part, is filling out an application for a job. He has a girlfriend… wife? (played by his real life wife Jasmine Cephas-Jones, who was also in Hamilton) and a daughter and he makes choices with the hopes of doing better for his family, but he does still hang out with his friends and do certain things that could get him into trouble, like buying “illegal” cigarettes and playing dice. He ends up filming the murder of Darius Larsen by the cops and he’s now faced with the choice of sharing what he witnessed once the stories circulate that Darius attacked the cop. I found it interesting that he had this choice, especially once he has a one-sided conversation with a pair of cops. This story line is probably the most interesting in the film. I liked seeing Anthony at the forefront in a dramatic role. I think he does very well, it honestly doesn’t even feel like he’s playing a role but more of an extension of himself which I think is impressive most of the time.
  • Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Zyrick. We see him first in Manny’s part, he gets referred to as “Jeter” due to his baseball playing. We see him again with Dennis while they play basketball, but then he gets his own part and this part must have been inspired by the short film “Stop” on the DVD. He’s a teenager who is working to get into college or whatever due to his baseball skills. He’s very good and he and his dad have a plan. He finds himself stopped by a pair of cops and randomly searched one evening and now his days have been messed up and now he’s wondering what he can do to help in the movement and protest. This part is very realistic because I’m sure a lot of young people started to wonder just what they can do to help take a stand against this issue, especially in the last two years with the rise police brutality seemed to take. I get that. This is the first film I’ve seen with him and I think he’s pretty good. His character is also subtle and in ways emotional, so he gets a lot of silent moments.
Powerful Story. I get what they were trying to do in this film. It starts out with Dennis Williams (Washington) driving along, listening to music and then he gets pulled over and pretty much his day is ruined. If you’ve been pulled over by a cop after you were doing your thing, jamming to music or whatever, I’m sure you can relate. But this moment sets the tone for the rest of the film. We then get to Manny (Ramos) and he’s doing his thing and then he witnesses the murder by cops of a friend. We also get a glimpse of Zyric (Harrison Jr.) through him and then we get a bit more of Dennis’s story and then we get Zyric’s story. I get how this was done and ideally, it would have been a strong choice, but I’ll get into this a bit more later. So, we see how each of these men deal with the whole issue of police brutality and how some officers take advantage of their power and how it affects each of their lives. That’s interesting stuff.
Interesting Storytelling. This goes hand in hand with the part before this. I get the idea of what they were doing with exploring three different sides of the same issue that happened with the death of Darius Larson. You get the side of the black policeman, the side of the young man who filmed it and then a young man who was a bit removed from the situation but affected by it afterwards. I totally get the reason and for the most part, it’s a smart choice.
Cons:
Storytelling Choices. Okay, so I had to mention this here as well because while I get how the broke up the storytelling and exploring each person’s storyline, it feels more like a series of short films more than it feels like a coherent film. This is also evident once you watch the short film “STOP” on the DVD. It’s broken up into three parts and they have their connections, but they also feel disjointed which is the big problem I found. Plus, it leaves a very unsatisfying ending. Perhaps this would have fared better if it was a mini-series because it feels very episodic.
The Ending. WHAT IS UP WITH THIS ENDING! Literally, my friend and I looked at each other like WTF?? I get it! I mean, I really do, it’s not that I don’t get what the movie wanted to do but that doesn’t mean I have to like every choice it makes. I know what the implications of the ending means but it’s so abrupt that I was not expecting it to end, it seemed like there was so much more to be done. I did not like that at all.
Needed 20 More Minutes. This movie needed about 20 extra minutes and it’s only 95 minutes long! I mean what! That’s a mini-series! lol This could be fit into a good 7-episode mini-series on HBO or Netflix or something. I feel like it could have used the extra story to just give us a bit more with each character we’ve followed because once we move on from their part, we hardly ever see them again. Besides, I really think they should have done chapter titles or something to let us know we’re switching gears to a new perspective, similar to what Moonlight did which is a fantastic film.
Overall, Monsters and Men is a good movie with a very powerful story it wants to tackle, and I think it does do a good job in tackling different sides of similar and connected stories. The acting is very good from our three leads and the supporting characters as well. I get what they’re trying to do with how they story, and it works overall but I do think their choice of storytelling also prevents each story from getting the resolution it should get. Not to mention, the most interesting of the three just seems to be forgotten and I’m like “umm, well what happened with that character?” and it just moves on and it’s like… at least throw a line in there or something. I also did not like how abrupt the ending was. But considering how this movie is based on reality it’s worth the watch because it has a lot of strength and power behind it.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars. 
Have you seen Monsters and Men? What did you think about it?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!

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